We have all been there twisting and turning to try to get to sleep or to try to return to sleeping state. For some it is a rare occurrence, for others it happens all the time, insomnia. Many of my clients report improved sleep as a side effect of reflexology, either the quality or the quantity of sleep but ideally both, is a great first step towards better health.
Reflexology helps boost circulation, enhances relaxation and helps your body to rebalance itself. In particular reflexology can help to rebalance the endocrine system including the stress hormones of cortisol and adrenalin – high levels of these can reduce the ability to sleep or to reach a deep sleep. Melatonin is a hormone that is produced in the pineal gland, the hormone rises in response to darkness and is the hormone important for sleep and for detoxification.
Why is 8 hours of quality sleep so important?
Matthew Walker, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at University of California Berkley published a book on sleep recently called “Why we sleep‘. His talks are also widely available on the internet – TED talks, tv interviews and seminars for anyone interested in further information. Some of the highlights of his research, lack of sleep;
- prevents your brain from making new memories. It leads to a build up of a toxic protein called beta amyloid, this is associated with Alzheimer’s because it is during deep sleep that the brain detoxifies this protein. The less deep sleep you achieve the more this protein builds up and the higher the chances of Alzheimer’s in later life.
- contributes directly to memory loss, we have known for time that there was an association between ageing, memory loss and lack of sleep we now know of this direct link between sleep and memory loss
- affects the reproductive system, men who are regularly sleeping 5 to 6 hours a night have the level of testosterone of a man 10 years older
- sleep helps to stabilise and support your emotional and mental health and that without sleep those emotional circuits are more emotional and irrational. Lack of sleep is a component in all forms of mental illness
- impacts your cardio vascular system, during deep sleep at night your body enjoys a natural blood pressure reducing effect – the heart rate drops, blood pressure goes down. If you are not getting regular deep sleep you are also not getting this reboot of the cardiovascular system. If you are getting 6 hours of sleep or less you have a 200% increased risk of having a fatal heart attack or a stroke in your lifetime. When clocks go back once a year there is a large increase in heart attacks the following day because of the loss of one hour of sleep
- natural killer cells are part of our immune system and are our defence against cancer. He explains that restricting sleep to 4 hours in one night can result in a reduction of 70% in NK after just one night of reduced sleep. NK cells are Natural Killer cells which are responsible for keeping our body cancer free. Short sleep duration predicts your risk for developing a variety of cancers including prostate, colon and breast cancer. He stresses the danger of prolonged insufficient sleep, this has lead to shift working being classified as a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organisation.
Can reflexology help with sleep and insomnia?
Researchers in Taiwan investigated the difference that reflexology has on the sleep quality of new mothers who were reporting poor sleep. Participants were assessed for sleep quality and randomly allocated to a control group or intervention group. Participants in both groups received the same care, however those in the intervention group received 30 minutes of reflexology every evening for 6 nights. It was found that the intervention group receiving foot reflexology had significantly improved sleep. You can read the full research here.
Meanwhile researchers in China looked into the effectiveness of reflexology was slightly more effective at enhancing sleep than the pharmaceutical drug Alprazolam also called Xanax. A quick google will reveal the side effects of that drug, I know which one I would choose! We know of course from the researcher Matthew Walker that the quality of sleep when using medication is not regenerative, another reason to avoid sleeping medication if you can!
It is worth mentioning a study examining the sleeping patterns of elderly men found that 20 minutes of reflexology was effective at improving perceived quality of sleep and reducing the time it takes to fall asleep. This was a significantly better result than the control group with similar age and profiles who had no treatment, but not as effective as the group where men soaked their feet in 10cm of warm water an hour before bed! Read the full research transcript here
What else can we do to enhance sleep?
- maintain regularity of bed time – try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, weekends too.
- we need darkness in the evening to release the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland in response to darkness, it helps the body to shut down for sleep and kicks off detoxification. Dim the lights for a few hours before bedtime
- consider blackout blinds
- turn off screens – the smart phones, the laptops, tablets and tv – for at least an hour before bedtime, especially blue light emitting devices that fool the body into thinking it is day time
- make your bedroom a technology free zone, leave the tv for another room, leave the mobile phone to charge elsewhere, preferably in airplane mode.
- keep your bedroom cooler, this takes your body in the right temperature direction to encourage sleep
- consider calming rebalancing exercise like yoga or pilates
- try some meditation, there are lots of free meditations on you tube if you don’t want to join a class
- get outside for some natural light every day – this helps to regulate melatonin
- alcohol and drugs result in poor quality sleep, don’t be fooled into think that it helps you to sleep better, alcohol is a class of drugs called sedatives, we are knocking your brain out, not putting it into natural sleep. Alcohol will fragment your sleep so you wake more times during the night and achieve less deep sleep. Alcohol also blocks your dream state
- avoid caffeine during the second half of the day, even though you may be able to fall asleep or stay asleep, the depth of the sleep when there is caffeine in your brain will be less and this will result in waking unrefreshed and needing more coffee the next day to try to feel awake. This can lead to an addiction cycle, caffeine to wake up, caffeine to stay alert, caffeine leads to poor sleep waking unrefreshed and leading to a need for more caffeine the next day.
- take a warm bath or warm foot bath before bedtime, add some epsom salts for an extra treat
- if you are still awake after 20 minutes of being in bed, try not to stay in bed awake fighting to relax. As well as being in the wrong mindset, staying in bed awake and frustrated can train the brain that bed is where you go to be awake rather than to sleep. The advice is to get up, go to another room and read a book (no screens!!!) in dim light, once you feel sleepy you can return to bed and try again. This will help to retrain the brain that bed is for sleeping. For those who do not want to get out of bed meditation in bed is a great alternative. It helps to relax the body, calm down the fight or flight reaction, meditation can help to quiet the mind as well as the body which in turn helps to promote sleep.
If you are interested in trying reflexology to tackle your sleeping challenges, contact me to discuss a taster appointment.